Cairns Taipans fighting for a spot in the finals
NOT that the Taipans need much motivation when they play the Townsville Crocodiles, but every time they do there seems to be something riding on it.
Forget Melbourne v Sydney or even Sydney v Wollongong. Their "Reptile Rumble" is the NBL's famous battle.
Last season it was the Crocs who edged the Taipans out of the top four, and the season before that the Taipans made a grand final series at Townsville's expense.
This season they are both sitting mid-table and the likelihood is that only one, if any, will feature in the top four at season's end.
"I've been part of it for 14 years and for a while we were far apart, but the games were always competitive, passionate and there was always someone talking garbage," Taipans coach Aaron Fearne said.
"It's come down to us two the last two years and it's definitely a good rivalry and fun for the fans."
Fearne is aware of the scenario that faces his seventh-placed Snakes and the Crocs in sixth spot.
"Both teams are in must-win situations really; that's the thin ice we're on.
"It's like in play-off mode right now," he said.
Having beaten Townsville in both games this season, a win tonight in the Swamp would lock up the mini-series for Cairns.
But going in for the kill has been an issue for Cairns this season, and the Crocs carry a far different side from the one they last faced.
"It's been our achilles heel; we don't have that killer, 'stomp on you' mentality," Fearne said.
"You gotta make the most of your chances. But we aren't the lone ranger there, Townsville have done it too."
He is envious of the Crocs' mid-season recruitment drive that has seen quality pair Gary Ervin and Luke Nevill don the green uniform.
"Most teams would like that flexibility to inject a lot of money to bring guys like that in," he said.
"It's been a good punt though; they're playing good ball. Luke has improved and I think he really is too good for the NBL right now I'd say. He's been a big difference (for Townsville)."
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Establishing play: Alex Loughton (left) attempts to contain Shane Edwards during a Taipans training session. Picture: BRENDAN FRANCIS